Monday, 11 October 2010

Agent Orange: The Accidental President‏

Ohhh, what to do about Seigo? It seems as though last week's dour 2-1 loss to rivals Urawa Reds was the least of the worries to be found in our little corner of the J-League. If you put into Google the words "Omiya Seigo Watanabe", you will get about twelve stories all saying the same thing about Ardija's president and his foray into (mis-)counting tickets. And it could all mean that we end up watching games in Kitakyushu next season.

A little history. When the J-League was founded, one of its main goals was to differentiate itself from its rival, Japan Professional Baseball (NPB). A major way in which the fledgling league sought to do this was by having transparency when it came to the box office. NPB teams had routinely posted sellout numbers, even though stands were often half-full. And now Omiya is accused of doctoring numbers from last week's match. A discrepancy was found between the 29,000 tickets counted at the gate and the 33,000+ listed as official attendance for the game.

The league is treating this as a betrayal of trust that not only shakes the core of the J-League, but of society itself. Omiya for their part are saying that it was an innocent mix-up, caused by a combination of people showing up for the pre-game festivities and then not attending the match itself (there was a count of the pre-game crowd) and the family upgrade promotion, all of which led to some people being counted twice. It's believable... or it would be, if it had come out right at the start and had not followed a straight denial.

And as always, I'm torn. Maybe it's just my upbringing in a country that routinely fudges attendance numbers at sporting events, but it seems to me that this investigation is a huge case of overkill. There is now talk of Omiya being docked ten points for this "unspeakable act". My first thought is, Wow, Urawa has been involved in three or four major incidents (including their supporters touching the third rail of soccer with racist chants against Vegalta Sendai's North Korean international Ryan Yong Gi) and they haven't been docked points.

My second thought is that the J-League has welcomed sponsors with less-than-stellar reputations in regards to honesty, like the Yomiuri Group (the money behind the Yomiuri Giants, who perfected the technique of attendance padding), Nova (who defrauded thousands of students and hundreds of teachers with bad accounting practices) and Maruhan (a pachinko/slots provider with alleged ties to the Japanese Mafia), as well as numerous other companies who through mismanagement and other shady practices find themselves near extinction.

My third and fourth thoughts are that if this had happened in places like Yokohama or Suita, would we be hearing about it? And has this really never happened before? I'm a bit skeptical that our current predicament might really be the first instance of the "unspeakable act" taking place in the J-League. And I'm also a bit defensive about the J-League crying for "transparency" when they don't believe in the concept for their own dealings. And yet...

They have a point. Yomiuri Hochi has run a series of articles like this one about the Omiya incident since details first came out. One of the quotes from J-League guy and Tokyo Verdy defacto president Hideyuki Hanyu was to the effect that this kind of thing opens up doubts about other crowd numbers with not only fans, but the sponsors as well. You can't argue with the statement. It does. A club like Ardija has striven to make an image for itself as a family-friendly local club that does things the right way - unlike its large, scary Red neighbors - and lying puts a big dent in that image.

Besides, I always thought the numbers were a bit dishonest to begin with. For the past couple of years, Omiya has done mass ticket giveaways and extreme discounts for elderly people. The numbers have trended up a bit, but we've been doing things a bit shortsighted in terms of building a fanbase. It seems like we have taken shortcuts in terms of developing our club, not only in terms of on-field play but also at the box office. Now it looks like that policy will come back to haunt us.

President Watanabe has always started each year with grandiose promises that have fallen through - you'll remember all the ACL talk from last year, the never-ending quest for a new training ground, this year's target of a fifth-place finish and 55 points (NB. which the defeat by Urawa confirms we will not be able to reach). The one promise that Watanabe did actually keep was last year's goal of 300,000 people through the gate. Now we can't be sure if even that was honestly achieved. I'm not going to call for Watanabe's resignation on this, mainly because I think he should have resigned long ago and it would just fall on deaf ears.

However, I will say that Mr Watanabe has played fast and loose with our team since he took over, especially when it came to personnel decisions. It also seems absolutely stupid to mess with attendance numbers when the league has specifically said that teams should never, ever lie about this. If Mr Watanabe hasn't noticed, we aren't exactly one of the J-League's favorite teams: it wasn't Sota Nakazawa that was singled out by a league official as a low-quality player and a classless person for diving, it was Naoki Ishihara. There's a reason for that. Whether or not it happens officially, this is going to cost us as a team and responsibility for that fact ultimately rests at the top.

Who would have thought that Toshiya Miura's tenure was gonna be looked upon as our glory years?



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